As another train barrels into the station, I check Google Maps again, nibbling my lower lip. Then I squint at the train timetable, trying to figure out if this is my ride. The train judders to a stop, expels a rush of passengers and races away again before I can decide. It isn’t until the crowd has streamed to the exit do I notice the boy. Has he been here all the while? His neatly pressed navy blue suit with a badge below his left collarbone and the backpack looped around his shoulders marks him out as a student.
Maybe I should I ask him if the next train is the express to Ikebukuro. I take a step towards him and then hesitate. On the stiff plastic chair, he sits with his shoulders hunched. His head is bowed with his eyes shut. Everything about him is perfectly still except his lips, which move silently. I don’t fancy interrupting someone who is praying… or mentally unstable.
So I look around for someone else to ask. By now the platform is filling up again. An elderly man comes to stand near me and I approach him.
“Oh, yes. Next train.” He flashes me a smile.
“Arigato gozaimasu.” I trip over the foreign words, feeling my cheeks stain with heat.
My peripheral vision catches sight of the boy. He’s like a stone in a river, splitting the flow of water in two. People move around him seamlessly, beginning to form queues and I join one of it. The next moment the speakers are blaring with an announcement. People start to straighten and shuffle forward slightly. Only a strip of yellow line on the platform separates us from the tracks.
The boy comes into view again, on my far right. His backpack his missing. A quiver suddenly runs through me. I crane my head to see if he’s left it on the chair but too many people are in my way. When I turn back towards the boy, he’s missing. Ah, he must have realized he forgot his bag. My shoulders relax.
I can hear the roar of the train now, its light cutting through the darkness of the tunnel. Adjusting the strap of my bag on my shoulders, I freeze. The boy. He’s still there but he’s moved to the front of the queue. And he obviously didn’t retrieve his bag. The next second the train hurtles in and the boy takes a flying leap towards it.
My knees buckle. Maybe I screamed. It wouldn’t have mattered because I couldn’t hear anything above that split second thud of flesh and metal reverberating in my head. All around me, there is complete chaos now. I stagger back and crumble to the floor. My palms fly to my ears trying to block out the horrified shouting and the screeching of train tires. Suddenly I know I’m going to throw up. Everyone is too busy panicking to care that I’m depositing my lunch on the platform floor.
Again and again, I see him flying towards the train. But another image superimposes itself. His lips moving incessantly. Was he begging for an intervention? Or psyching himself into jumping? If I had gone to speak to him, would it have altered the course of his life today? Bile rushes up my throat. I’ll never know, will I?